WHILE SPENCER CLAIMS USAC/CRA TITLE BY: Robert Mayson
(November 29, 2008) Tony Jones, Norco, Calif., went out in style Saturday night at the Perris Auto Speedway. Prior to the running of the inaugural Glenn Howard Memorial, Jones officially announced to the fans that this would be his final ride behind the wheel of a sprint car. Appropriately, Jones proceeded to lead all 30-laps of his last race and won his series-high sixth Lucas Oil USAC/CRA feature race of the season.
If this was in fact Jones' farewell race, he walks away from the sport seemingly at the top of his game. During his career, "The Cowboy" has registered 35 410-sanctioned sprint cars wins, including three USAC National wins and the 2000 Oval Nationals.
"I'm sure it'll all sink in tomorrow because tonight it's all pretty surreal," said the 38 year-old Jones. "It was a storybook night for me and I couldn't be any happier right now. Everyone has been asking me all night what I'll remember most about my career and I think this is what I'll remember. On my retirement night I won the race and beat a lot of good guys."
Jones, who also won the 2007 USAC/CRA driving title, joined in the celebration with Mike Spencer, Temecula, Calif., who was officially crowned the 2008 USAC/CRA Champion earlier in the evening. For car owner Ron Chaffin and crew chief Bruce Bromme, Jr., Spencer's title run marked their tenth 410-series championship since joining forces in 1995.
Thanks to the hard work of Steve Howard, who helped raise an estimated $35,000 in money and products which was added to the purse in the memory of his father, the Glenn Howard Memorial quickly became one of the richest races on the USAC/CRA schedule. In fact, with lap and bonus money, Jones' payday is expected to exceed $10,000.
Jones started on the pole for the feature race next to Yorba Linda, California's Rip Williams. Jones quickly put his with Alexander Trucking / La Villa Restaurant No. 4 DRC into the lead at the drop of the green flag and led the John Jory Corporation / AMA Plastics No. 44 Maxim driven by Williams at the end of the opening lap.
The final race of the 2008 season was marred by numerous caution periods, including flips by Nic Faas, Rodney Argo, Dave Darland and Henry Clarke. Fortunately, everyone emerged from their cars without injury.
While Jones comfortably led the field, Damion Gardner, Concord, Calif., was working his way to the front from the eighth starting spot despite having a noticeably tight racecar throughout the first half of the event. Driving the Leffler Racing / Pace Electronics No. 71 DRC, Gardner muscled his way ahead of Williams along the back-straight and moved into the second position on the 20th circuit.
Making up nearly a half of straight-away deficit in the closing laps, Gardner was almost within striking distance when Jones reached lapped traffic two-laps from the finish. Coming down to accept the white flag, "The Demon" had cut Jones' lead to just three-car lengths. With one set of corners to go, Gardner stuck a wheel under Jones and drag raced him to the finish line exiting turn-four. Carrying more momentum off the banking Jones screamed towards the checked flag to earn a memorable victory.
"The track was so sticky and there were places out there that really upset the car' Jones explained. "I knew that tip-toeing around there and catching lapped traffic that someone was going to be right there with me. At the time, I didn't know that it was Damion, but I heard him coming full throttle towards the checkered flag. I got a good run coming off of turn-four, and like I did my whole racing career, I left him plenty of room on the bottom. It was pretty emotional. I really enjoyed my racing career and now I'm going to enjoy retirement."
Williams finished third, one spot ahead of Tyler Brown, Norco, Calif., in the Nadine Gardner / Goodwine Glass No. 96 Sled. Danny Sherdian, Santa Maria, Calif. finished fifth in the Kittle Motorsports / Scott Sales No. 18 Stinger, with fast qualifier Blake Miller finishing sixth. Greg Bragg earned "Hard-Charger" honors with his 22nd to eleventh-place drive.